Vimy Anniversary

with Nicolas Chapuis VimyFormer Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson and French Ambassador Nicolas  Chapuis at a March 22 reception marking the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge hosted at the French Embassy.. Photographs courtesy of Cynthia Munster

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Getting Ready for NAFTA Negotiations

For Canada, all hands on deck during NAFTA renegotiations

The rules of the road for trade with our biggest trading partner are about to be renegotiated. We need an all-of-Canada effort to get ready.

The stakes are critical: Three-quarters of our exports head south to the United States. Trade with the United States represents almost a third of our GDP and it sustains close to one in five Canadian jobs.

In the coming days, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will formally advise Congress of NAFTA renegotiations, setting in play a 90-day consideration by House and Senate committees. By the latter part of the year, Mr. Ross expects that we will be into “real” negotiations that he predicts will take at least a year.

Following his White House meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month, President Donald Trump described the Canada-U.S. relationship as just needing some “tweaking.” But, as Mr. Ross told Bloomberg this week, “there is a lot of meat to be dealt with,” including addressing the digital economy and revising the rules of origin.

After meeting recently with her Mexican counterparts in Toronto , Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canada’s preference is for trilateral negotiations. Mr. Trump prefers bilateral deals but Secretary Ross says he is “open-minded” about the form. Regardless, Canada and Mexico need to stay close to avoid the divide-and-conquer techniques that are integral to Mr. Trump’s “art of the deal.”

Getting Canada’s act together means real collaboration between the federal and provincial governments and close, continuing consultations with business, labour and civic society. We need consensus on two questions:

  • What do we want from the negotiations?
  • How do we get there?

The more creative we can be, the better. The expertise of sectoral advisory groups proved vital to the successful negotiation of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement (1988) and NAFTA (1993-4). They should be resurrected and made permanent. We need to co-opt the best brains in our research community to rapidly crunch data and provide timely analysis for our negotiators.

The Canadian strategy going into the talks must be bold. A new agreement should be broad and comprehensive, providing for the free flow of people, goods and services with enforceable standards for labour and the environment. Let’s take the best from the stillborn (at least for now) Trans-Pacific Partnership. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to our mutually beneficial energy relationship in putting forward a Canadian policy that is both pragmatic and progressive.

Most of the American “asks” are readily identifiable. As Mr. Ross told Congress during his confirmation hearings, the United States wants to reduce its trade deficits and to restore manufacturing through increasing the “Made in America” content for rules of origin.

The United States Trade Representative annual National Trade Estimates report lists United States’ complaints with Canada. These include extending the intellectual property protection for pharmaceuticals; ending supply management for dairy and poultry; and inspecting for counterfeits, especially for Chinese goods shipped to U.S. destinations through Canadian ports like Vancouver or Prince Rupert.

The easiest solution on rules of origin would be to move to a customs union, but the Americans are unlikely to buy in unless it is a strictly Canada-U..S agreement. Otherwise we need to redefine rules of origin as “Made in North America.” American manufacturers should be our allies, especially those in the automotive industry, where supply-chain integration dates from the 1965 Canada-U.S. Auto Pact.

We should agree to counterfeit inspection in return for extended pre-clearance of goods and easier business travel access. Reforming supply management is long overdue, but let’s get something in return, such as access to U.S. shipbuilding contracts.

Where they were once divided, today Canada’s premiers are of like mind on the value of trade, leading missions across our oceans. Now they need to focus on our biggest customer, especially through cultivating their governor counterparts in regional meetings and through visits to their states. Premier Rachel Notley sets the bar through consistent visits to the US capitol and other US cities.

Access to procurement is vital, especially at the state and provincial government level and, for the premiers, this should be job one. Working with governors, they did a procurement reciprocity deal around the Obama infrastructure investments in 2010. Now we need to make it permanent.

The Americans like us, indeed, more than we like them. The Trudeau government has created good working relationships within the Trump administration. But complacency is a mistake. Mr. Trump’s priority is “making America great again.” The business of America is business. Canada needs to be ready.

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Trump and Trudeau: A Primer

Colin —

New Policy Update: “A Primer to the Trump-Trudeau Meeting”
by Colin Robertson


For Immediate Release

10 February 2017 – Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Global Affairs Institute released today:  “A Primer to the Trump-Trudeau Meeting” by Colin Robertson, CGAI Vice-President and Fellow.

On Monday February 13, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with President Donald Trump in the White House for their first face-to-face encounter. We can expect the official photo to show a stern-looking Mr. Trump and a smiling Mr. Trudeau, indicative of their respective public personalities. But what can we expect in terms of security, trade, and energy? Colin Robertson guides us through with this Primer, including:

• What Will Happen
• Setting the Stage
• Security Basket
• Energy Basket
• Trade Basket
• What to do about Softwood Lumber
• An Assymetrical Relationship
• How does Mexico fit into this?
• Further Reading

The complete report, “A Primer to the Trump-Trudeau Meeting” is available at:

Download the PDF

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute is always looking for
submissions from scholars and practitioners.
Submit your work here.

For More Information Contact:
Meaghan Hobman

Image: Canadian Press/Associated Press

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Negotiating trade with China, USA, EU

Relations are improving, but we still don’t know what we want from China: Former diplomat ‘The Close’ BNN February 2, 2017

As Canada gets set to look at strengthening trade ties with China, Dentons LLP Senior Advisor Colin Robertson and former Canadian Diplomat tells BNN he’s not convinced Canada knows what it wants from China.​

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Trump and Trudeau

Trudeau’s imminent meeting with Trump carries substantial political risk

By Chris Hall, CBC News Posted: Jan 31, 2017 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Jan 31, 2017 7:49 AM ET

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing to meet as early as this week with U.S. President Donald Trump, a visit intended to underscore the deep economic and security ties between the two countries.

But it also carries substantial political risk.

While the date and location have yet to be confirmed, Canadian sources say the prime minister wants to sit down with Trump as soon as possible to explain the importance of the cross-border trade relationship that’s worth more than $660 billion annually and supports millions of American jobs.

Trump, as anyone who follows the news will know, is a free-trade skeptic. He’s said the Keystone XL pipeline should be built, but only with American steel. He’s made it clear that companies looking to expand or build should do so in the U.S. or face stiff tariffs.


Trump addresses the ‘Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration’ at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Jan. 19. He and Trudeau have already spoken three times by phone. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

But economics is only one of the course requirements Trudeau needs before his first face-to-face encounter with Trump. National security and values are the other big ones.

The prime minister will have to convince Trump that Canada’s decision to admit 40,000 Syrian refugees doesn’t pose any security risk to the U.S.

That task took on far more importance on the weekend when Trump signed an executive order banning all citizens from Syria and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

The decision created chaos for travellers and has been condemned by many around the world. On Saturday, Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”

It was retweeted more than 420,000 times, the kind of activity that might very well have caught the eye of a U.S. president who uses Twitter to take on his critics and make policy announcements.

“The prime minister will have to tread very carefully,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, a vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“He has to make it clear that Canada is a reliable ally and important trading partner, but at the same time Canadians will expect him to be the champion for progressive policies.”

The risks

Trump invited Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to Washington this week for separate, bilateral meetings, to be followed by a Three Amigos summit to discuss North American issues.

But the Pena Nieto visit was cancelled after Trump signed an executive order to begin the design and construction of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexican government officials tell CBC News they understand Canada will go ahead with its meetings to defend its own interests. Mexican newspapers have been less charitable. “Canada abandons Mexico in NAFTA negotiations” was a headline in El Excelsior.

Officially, the Mexican officials remain hopeful that Canada will continue to stress the importance of NAFTA and Mexico’s role as a partner.


Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto gestures as he delivers a message about foreign affairs in Mexico City on Jan. 23. He cancelled a visit to Washington after Trump signed an executive order to begin work on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

There’s also a risk of alienating progressive Canadians by meeting with Trump at all.

New Democrats argue Trudeau needs to be much more forceful in denouncing Trump’s travel ban. But Conservative MP Randy Hoback says priority No. 1 is to keep the border open to Canadian goods.

“He should focus on those things that reinforce the partnership.”

In other words, when Trump talks about getting back into coal-fired power generation, Trudeau should talk up Canada’s carbon-sequestration technology.

If Trump wants to talk about border taxes, the prime minister should remind him that 35 states list Canada as their largest trading partner.

Whatever he does, Trudeau is sure to be criticized.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, the first foreign leader to meet Trump at the White House, is under considerable pressure to withdraw an invitation to have him visit the U.K. The Independent newspaper reported Monday that a petition calling on the government to cancel the state visit has a million signatures.

US Trump Britain

Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May walk at the White House on Jan. 27. May invited Trump to visit Britain, but a million petitioners have reportedly asked her to cancel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal staffer who runs the Ottawa office of Environics Communications, says Trudeau has a duty to meet with Trump even if the president’s statements about women, Mexicans and other groups are so at odds with his own commitment to inclusiveness and equality.

“The prime minister can still stand up for Canadian values,” he says. “But the U.S. is just too important a trading partner, and Trump’s campaign was so heavily focused on jobs and trade, that there’s no other choice.”

The goal

Trudeau and Trump have spoken on the phone three times since the president’s election victory in November, most recently on Monday when Trump called to offer his condolences and support following the shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six and left five others with critical injuries.

Key cabinet ministers like Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Transport Minister Marc Garneau are planning visits to Washington, as soon as their American counterparts are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to discuss energy and infrastructure priorities and to show how Canadian and American interests in these areas intersect.

And Andrew Leslie, the new parliamentary secretary for Canada-U.S. relations, who knows a number of Trump’s cabinet ministers from when they were all ranking military officers, has already been several times.

The goal here is to show Trump that Canada is a safe, dependable and valued partner. Even when, as last weekend shows, there are issues on which the two will disagree.

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What to expect from new ambassadors out of Canada and the United States

As Canada and the U.S. change up key diplomatic appointments, Colin Robertson lays out the challenges — and opportunities — for today’s diplomats.



January 24, 2017
New U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman speaks to journalists after presenting his credentials at Rideau Hall in Ottawa April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The recent appointment of John McCallum as Canada’s ambassador to China and the recall of all of Obama’s political appointees has put the role of the diplomat back into the spotlight.

The McCallum appointment by the Trudeau government is a smart move.

An increasingly confident China believes it is due the same respect as the United States. It is no secret that the Chinese wanted an envoy commensurate with our ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton. A confidante of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, MacNaughton has close relationships within the Prime Minister’s Office, the cabinet and the Liberal Party, as well as deep knowledge and experience in governing and managing strategic relations with the private and public sector.

Likewise, as an experienced parliamentarian and senior cabinet minister who held diverse portfolios, including Citizenship and Immigration and Defence, and as former RBC Chief Economist, McCallum has place and standing. His family connections to Asia, through his wife, Nancy Lim, herself an immigrant to Canada, are not lost on the Chinese. 

With the appointment of McCallum, Canada raises the likelihood of the as-yet unnamed new Chinese ambassador to Canada having the confidence of President Xi Jinping and the senior party leadership. 

The previous Chinese ambassador, Luo Zhaohui, was cross-posted from Ottawa to New Delhi last year. Now the ball is in the Chinese court to appoint a replacement.

McCallum will likely arrive with a mandate to negotiate a closer economic relationship with Canada. From the Chinese perspective, their asks will include better access to our resources, especially energy and agriculture, as well as improved investment access for Chinese state-owned enterprises. We have to ensure McCallum has a clear mandate on what the Canadian asks are.

A new U.S. ambassador in Canada

As Canada attempts to strengthen its ambassador appointments, the major U.S. embassies await new appointments from President Donald Trump. (Some are starting to be made, notably Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.) 

Former president Barack Obama followed convention in asking his appointees, on the day after the Nov. 8 election, for their resignation, to coincide with his own last day in office (Jan. 20). George W. Bush had done the same with his political appointees. Trump’s decision to accept the resignations of all the political appointees named as ambassador by Obama — about one-third of U.S. top envoys, including most of those to the G7 and G20 nations — should have come as no surprise.

And so, just days before last week’s inauguration in Washington, U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife Vicki bid farewell to Canada at an elegantly friendly reception at the U.S. Embassy on Sussex Drive.

Ambassador Heyman, a former Goldman Sachs executive from Chicago and an early supporter of then-Senator Obama, spoke to the accomplishments of the Obama administration, including his own work as ambassador. He underlined the trade, people-to-people relations and cultural diplomacy in which Vicki Heyman took a lead role. Ambassador Heyman spoke, for example, to the pre-clearance agreement to expedite passage of goods and people across the border. When positioned well, this is what ambassadors do.

Heyman’s successor as ambassador is likely to be of a similar mould: someone who has the confidence of Trump. U.S. ambassadors require Senate confirmation and this can take some time. In the interim, the chargé d’affaires will be the deputy chief of mission, Elizabeth Aubin, a career foreign service officer.

From the Canadian perspective, a political appointee is a good thing: an ambassador with the personal confidence of the president, who can pick up the phone and get through to the White House or cabinet secretaries and agency heads. Canada has been fortunate in having a run of political ambassadors who understand the levers of power and know how to get things done. 

What kind of ambassador will Trump choose?

If history is a guide, then it is likely to be someone with a business or political background.

Obama’s ambassadors to Canada, David Jacobson and Bruce Heyman, were both from the private sector in Chicago.

George W. Bush named experienced politicians: Paul Cellucci, a former Massachusetts governor, and then David Wilkins, a former Speaker in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Bill Clinton’s choices were a blend: Jim Blanchard, a former governor of Michigan, and then Gordon Giffin, an Atlanta lawyer, organizer and member of Clinton’s electoral college.

All of them were effective representatives for their president. Canada-U.S. relations were well served. While none of them were career diplomats, they quickly adapted to the diplomatic role.

Doing diplomacy in a tech-savvy world

Canada’s senior men and women in the field — ambassadors and high commissioners, consuls general and consuls — are mostly career diplomats.

While the professional foreign service still provides the backbone for our representation abroad, our diplomats increasingly come from a variety of backgrounds — other government departments, our Armed Forces and the private sector. This diversity gives us additional depth and necessary bench-strength.

While the ability to listen, analyze and report in a timely fashion has not changed, advocacy, increasingly public, is now an essential skill. Our diplomats need to use the tools of social media — notably Facebook and Twitter — to get the job done. In one of his first instructions, Trudeau encouraged our diplomats to use these tools. Canada’s foreign service should aspire to, once again, become a leader in public diplomacy.

“Successful diplomats need be comfortable with public diplomacy.”

Canada once led in public diplomacy, as Evan Potter describes in his book, Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power Through Public Diplomacy. We can lead again by developing the kinds of skills that Daryl Copeland outlines in his book, Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations.

The Canadian Embassy ‘tailgate’ party around the Trump inauguration is a good example of outreach. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and cabinet colleagues entertained the 1800 plus guests from the three branches and different levels of governments as well as those who make Washington work — the lawyers and lobbyists.

Public advocacy involving a Team Canada approach, not just in Washington but in all 50 states, will be necessary if we are to safeguard our interests as Trump puts “America first.”

For centuries diplomats had a near monopoly on analysis and there was time for reflection. But with the coming of the fax (Tiananmen Square) and global broadcast (the CNN effect around the first Gulf War), cheap and digital telephony (Skype, Facetime etc.) and the Internet, there is now a diversity of sources.

Today, the question is the reliability of sources. This puts pressure on our diplomats to ascertain what is true and what is false and, in the glut of information, to parse between what is noise and what is truly relevant.

Protocols, politesse and tête-à-tête with official interlocutors still have their place but successful diplomats also need be comfortable with public diplomacy.

This means developing the skills of a good saloon-keeper and impresario. It also takes creativity. Increasingly diplomats are expected to deliver a champagne-class event on a beer budget.

Aside from the requisite analytical skills, what also has not changed is a familiarity and comfort with foreign cultures, knowledge of languages, and especially empathy with one’s host nation. Adaptability has always been a necessary characteristic. And in a world in disarray, diplomacy matters more than ever.

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Inauguration Party at Canadian Embassy

Canadian embassy the hottest ticket in town for inauguration

The embassy’s invite-only inauguration “tail-gate” party and VIP brunch is going ahead as planned Friday, and officials insist it could be even larger than similar events held for previous incoming U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama in 2009.

As many as 1,800 people are expected at the embassy, which has hosted inauguration parties every four years dating back to 1993 – for Bill Clinton – leveraging its strategic location on the Pennsylvania Ave., parade route, between the Capitol and the White House.

Bigger, but also a little more awkward than usual, given that Mr. Trump has railed against much of what Canada holds dear, including open borders, free trade and international institutions such as NATO.

Read more: When is Trump the president? Your guide to the U.S. inauguration

Read more: Canadian embassy the hottest ticket in town for inauguration

Read more: What does the Trump era mean for Canada? A guide to what’s coming

But Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton isn’t about to pass up a rare opportunity to mingle with guests, expected to include key players in government, along with diplomats, lobbyists and policy experts. Among the expected guests will be a contingent of Canadian officials led by Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s new Foreign Minister, along with MP and retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, slated to become parliamentary secretary to Ms. Freeland with special responsibilities for Canada-U.S. relations.

“Hosting an event at our embassy gives Canada an excellent opportunity to welcome important guests, further build on our relationships and continue to advance Canada’s interests in the United States,” embassy spokeswoman Christine Constantin said.

The embassy’s sixth-floor terrace offers sweeping views of the Capitol and the parade route, making it one of the most sought-after spots for Washington A-listers to catch the pomp, circumstance and a glimpse of the new president – with the possible exception of Mr. Trump’s newest hotel, also located on Pennsylvania Ave.

Michael Wilson, who was ambassador in 2009, recalls standing on the embassy steps, surrounded by saluting Mounties in their iconic red serge jackets, as Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed by.

“We have pictures … and inside the darkened windows, you can see the President with a big smile on his face, waving at us,” Mr. Wilson said. “It was quite a fun day.”

Mr. Wilson acknowledged that Mr. Trump’s presidency will be uniquely challenging for Canada, but he insisted that the inauguration is primarily a day of celebration. And the embassy remains a powerful draw on inauguration day. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be telling “the Canadian story” to Americans, he said.

The vantage point to watch the presidential inauguration from the Canadian embassy “is just terrific,” said Maryscott Greenwood, head of the Canadian American Business Council, which represents about 100 companies with business in both countries.

“If you’re going to be in D.C., there isn’t a better place to be,” said Ms. Greenwood, who will be attending the party on Friday.

“It’s a hotly coveted invitation, because it’s a great location, it’s beautiful, it’s convenient. It’s kind of like being in the VIP box at a hockey game or something. You have a bathroom, you have food, interesting people, great view, TVs.”

As with previous inaugurations, the embassy will use the event to promote all things Canadian, including trade, tourism and Canadian fare. This year’s offerings will include Canadian beer, B.C. salmon, tourtière and poutine. The pillars of the embassy’s rotunda facing the parade route will be adorned with words of hope and optimism – “friends, neighbours, partners, allies” – in giant letters.

The party is typically a well-attended, bipartisan event, which represents the celebration of American democracy – not just a particular president.

But of course, Mr. Trump isn’t an ordinary president.

“This is a president who campaigned on, among other things, tearing up NAFTA and questioning NATO. Everything about Donald J. Trump is different. So, yes I think it will different,” Ms. Greenwood said.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who helped organize the 2005 inauguration party for George W. Bush at the embassy, acknowledged this event could be a little trickier than previous ones for Canadian officials.

“The politics are always particular,” he said. “But for us, it’s an opportunity to meet people we haven’t met and connect with them. Because it’s such a great viewing spot, you just never know who’s going to show up.”

The embassy usually posts spotters at the door to identify important guests in the crowd, Mr. Robertson said. In 2009, Arizona Senator John McCain and former House speaker Newt Gingrich rubbed shoulders with actor Michael J. Fox and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

The all-day event starts at 10.30 a.m. Guests will be able to watch the swearing-in and inaugural address from the Capitol building on big-screen TVs. Most of the thousand-plus guests will get to party in the embassy courtyard and the large Canada Room reception area. A more limited number of VIPs are invited to share brunch in the ambassador’s sixth-floor suite, taking in views of the parade as well as the embassy’s art collection, which includes works by the Group of Seven.

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Trade Opportunities in the USA

Even in the age of Trump, there are U.S. trade opportunities for Canada

Even with an anti-trade President, from aerospace to consumer goods, Canadian companies can still find plenty of trade partners in the United States


Truck driving over bridge

Fluidconcepts has produced office furnishing for MGM Studios, H&R Block and Variety magazine, among other U.S. clients. Indeed, while the workspace designer and manufacturer may be based in Oakville, Ont., roughly 60% of its sales take place on the other side of the border. So the U.S. election results have caused some anxiety for Byron Leclair, the firm’s president.

President-elect Donald Trump plans to renegotiate or “break” the North American Free Trade Agreement and scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have further reduced trade barriers. Despite the threatening rhetoric, Leclair is not overreacting just yet, opting to hold a wait-and-see position. “It’s speculation at this point, as it always is,” he says. “Right now we are focused on keeping contact with our U.S. customers and letting them know we value our relationship.”

That’s the best course of action for any Canadian business owner right now, says Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “Canadian companies need to remind their American counterparts that this relationship is working for both parties,” he says. “Likewise in Congress, there are both Democrats and Republicans who see the value of closer trade relations with Canada because it serves America’s prosperity.”

The Ottawa-based Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters trade association has advised its 10,000-plus members to avoid any drastic business decisions based on hunches. Senior vice-president Mathew Wilson has faith in the unparalleled relationship between Canada and the U.S.“We don’t just import and export with the U.S. We build things together,” he says, still adding that now is as good a time as any to start thinking about trade diversification.

Putting aside what might or might not happen, there are still some promising export opportunities between the two nations. Energy exports, specifically crude, experienced a year of flat growth due to the Alberta wildfires, but they’ll see a 12% gain next year as demand catches up with supply, according to Export Development Canada (EDC). Consumer goods, a star performer this year thanks to a weaker loonie and robust American spending, will continue to grow next year, albeit moderately, in areas such as household appliances, clothing, and jewellery.

One industry with a shaky but still promising outlook is forestry. About 70% of softwood lumber exports go to the U.S. and 2017 could bring hefty U.S. duties on Canadian timber, increasing costs for producers at home. However, the rebounding U.S. housing market provides some optimism; demand for construction materials such as lumber and wood panelling is expected to stay strong.

“One thing that Canada has to offer to the U.S. is proximity,” says Robert Pelletier, EDC’s U.S. chief representative. “If you think of transportation costs or just-in-time inventories, we certainly have an advantage. That’s not going to go away despite changes in policy.”

Homegrown companies also have one more advantage in their arsenal: the Canadian brand. Says Pelletier: “Companies really like working with Canadian firms because the country is known for reliability and quality.”

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Joe Biden Visit

Joe Biden drops in for a visit without any gifts: Chris Hall

U.S. vice-president could provide insight about what to expect from next administration

By Chris Hall, CBC News Posted: Dec 08, 2016 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Dec 08, 2016 7:57 AM ET

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will arrive in Ottawa on Thursday for a two-day official visit.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will arrive in Ottawa on Thursday for a two-day official visit. (Jessica Hromas/Reuters)


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He’s just a few weeks away from becoming just another ordinary Joe. But that’s not stopping U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden from making an official visit to Ottawa, where the Canadian government will roll out the red carpet.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will play host to Biden at a dinner on Thursday night that’s being billed as an occasion to celebrate the Canada-U.S. relationship.

The next morning, the man who’s been Barack Obama’s No. 2 for the past eight years will meet with premiers and Indigenous leaders who, by happy coincidence, are in the nation’s capital for their own two-day visit with the prime minister to discuss climate change and health care.


President-elect Donald Trump is getting ready to take over the White House from Barack Obama, which might explain why some files that concern Canada seem to have stalled. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Biden will hold bilateral meetings with Trudeau on Friday to discuss the “strong partnership” between Canada and the U.S. He’ll then join the first ministers to discuss the state of Canada-U.S. relations as well as other global issues.

But, given the season and all, anyone expecting Biden to come bearing gifts will be disappointed. There’s been no deal brokered in the final days of the Obama administration to resolve the softwood lumber dispute. No new measures to co-ordinate climate change policies. No pipeline approval wrapped up neatly with a bow.

What to expect from Trump

“It’s really a salutary visit intended to make Canadians feel good about the relationship with the U.S.,” says Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. “There’s not much of substance for him to offer when he’s unconnected to the incoming administration of Donald Trump.”

That’s not to dismiss the visit as merely the first stop of a Biden farewell tour. As vice-president, and before that as a two-time chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, he’s well-positioned, as one Canadian diplomat put it, “to showcase the bilateral relationship.” Perhaps most importantly, he can at least explain what Canadian politicians should look for when Trump becomes president next month.

“There are a lot of concerns about the Trump election and what it means for trade and the border,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who’s now a vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“As a former longtime senator, Biden can underline that while presidents have a lot of power, the checks and balances inherent in the U.S. system mean that major legislative changes require congressional approval.”

Even though the Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Senate, that doesn’t necessarily mean Trump will always get his way.


Some of Trump’s statements and tweets have caused real concern in Canada. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

It all speaks to the ongoing uneasiness caused by what Trump’s been saying (and tweeting) on any number of issues that directly affect Canada, and the growing uncertainty about whether the president-elect actually means what he says.

There’s no shortage of these pronouncements. Trump’s going to scrap NAFTA, withdraw U.S. support for the Paris climate accord, roll back the number of Syrian refugees, tighten the border and end the days when freeloading members of NATO could simply count on American military might.

Dawson would add the near-certainty that Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure pledge will re-insert Buy American provisions that would exclude Canadian manufacturers and producers.

“Canada needs to be vigilant to avoid becoming collateral damage,” she says. “That’s something on which the vice-president can offer some reassurance that the deep ties between the two countries, at the operational and regulatory level, will remain intact.”

Reputation for plain talk

Biden’s own reputation for plain talk and straying from talking points may not rival Trump’s. But it could benefit Canadian politicians who want an unvarnished view of where this critical bilateral relationship is heading. Biden’s the one most likely to deliver it.

The visit even offers an opportunity for ordinary Canadians to contribute their own Joe Biden memes. The collection of captioned photos in which the vice-president concocts all sorts of plans to sabotage Trump’s arrival at the White House has flourished online since the Nov. 8 election. It’s helped burnish what The New Yorker has called Biden’s “singular place in the pop culture of American politics.”

Trudeau, of course, is no slouch as a pop culture icon.

The prime minister’s closeness to Obama is well-documented on both sides of the border. It goes beyond the shared ideologies of Liberal and Democrat to the kind of working relationship between a prime minister and president that, in the past, produced treaties on free trade and acid rain.

It doesn’t seem likely that Trudeau and Trump will forge that bond.

So the Biden visit, at least, reinforces the connection with the outgoing administration, and could help nail down decisions on outstanding issues, such as mutual co-operation in the Arctic and the legislation to expand the number of locations offering customs pre-clearance for U.S.-bound travellers, before Trump sits in the Oval Office.

It’s not much. But these days, it’s all the soon-to-be ordinary Joe really has to offer.

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Nanos Survey on Canada-US Relations post Trump election


CTV News exclusive: 2 in 3 Canadians back Trump on Keystone, NATO

CTV News
Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 10.22.32 AM
A CTV exclusive poll shows many Canadians support some of Trump’s campaign promises, from Keystone to NATO. Glen McGregor has the numbers. Staff
Published Saturday, December 3, 2016 9:59PM EST

A new poll conducted for CTV News suggests about two in three Canadians are on board with Donald Trump’s proposal to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and the same proportion agree with the president-elect that Canada should contribute its “fair share” to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

At the same time, the Nanos Research poll found strong support for the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Trump has vowed to scrap or re-negotiate, and little appetite for the idea of Canada making special provisions for illegal immigrants he deports.

Here are the highlights from the survey of 1,000 adult Canadians that was conducted in late November.

Keystone XL

Nearly two in three (63 per cent) survey respondents either agreed or somewhat agreed that approval “of the Keystone XL pipeline which connects the oil sands to the U.S. market would be good news for Canada.” About one in three (32 per cent) either disagreed or somewhat disagreed, according to the pollster.

The plan for the 1,900-km pipeline from Alberta to refineries in the southern U.S. was quashed by U.S. President Barack Obama just over one year ago, despite support from a politically-diverse group of Canadian leaders including Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and NDP Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

In May, Trump told reporters he would “absolutely approve” the pipeline, but added he would want America to get “a piece of the profits.”

Defence spending

On NATO, Trump has repeatedly said the U.S. is paying more than its fair share for the mutual defence pact put in place to protect North America and Europe, calling it “unfair” and a “rip off.” President Obama has also chided Canada for not contributing its “fair share,” which the 28-nation bloc defines as two per cent of GDP. The U.S. spends far more than that – 3.5 per cent. France and Britain meet the target. Canada spends only one per cent.

The survey found about two in three (63 per cent) agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement “Canada should increase defence spending so that it pays its fair share of military costs as part of NATO.” About one in three (32 per cent) disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Five per cent said they were unsure.

NAFTA’s impact

Nanos also asked: “Do you think the Canadian economy is better off, worse off or there has been no impact because of the North America Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico?”

Nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) said NAFTA has left Canada better off, while only one in five agreed it left Canada worse off. Meanwhile, 18 per cent said they were unsure and six per cent said it had no impact.

The results suggest growing support for NAFTA since the same question was asked in Sept. 2012. At that time, only 28 per cent said the pact had left Canada better off, compared to 26 per cent who said it left Canada worse off, 16 per cent who said it had no impact and 30 per cent who said they were unsure.

Acceptance of illegal aliens

Donald Trump’s vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States could send many knocking on Canada’s door. But, the Nanos poll suggests, most Canadians would not accept “making special provisions to accept illegal aliens who may be deported from the United States.”

Only about one in three (32 per cent) agreed or somewhat agreed with the idea of making special provisions for those deported, while about six in 10 (61 per cent) either disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Seven per cent were unsure.


Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between Nov. 26 and 30 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.

The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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